James Paxton has hit a groove.
He didn’t strike out 16 batters. Eight this time.
He didn’t throw a no-hitter. Three this time.
But with a Seattle Mariners bullpen that had been teetering on struggling and surviving, Paxton’s complete-game of mostly dominance against the Detroit Tigers in a 7-2 victory on Saturday at Safeco Field continued to cement the Big Maple’s status as their Big Ace.
This was Paxton’s first start in Seattle since throwing the Mariners’ sixth no-hitter in team history last week on his native Canadian soil in Toronto.
“We jumped on his back tonight,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s been fun watching it kind of evolve over the last 4-5 outings and taking a next step – establishing himself as one of the best starters in this league. There’s no question about it.”
Only the Indians' Carlos Carrasco has thrown two complete games this season like Paxton has. This is the third time Paxton has pitched at least seven innings in his past four starts. He now has half of the Mariners’ six outings of seven-plus innings so far this season.
He struck out 16 batters four starts ago against the Angels, then the no-hitter against the Blue Jays last week and now this complete game after three runs in six innings against the Tigers on Sunday in a loss.
“He got better throughout the game and I think it just shows what he’s becoming as a pitcher,” Mariners catcher Mike Zunino said. “He’s developed over the past couple of years and he’s that guy you want to have that ball every fifth day taking you deep into ball games. Whether he has his best stuff or not he’s going to pitch deep into the game.”
The Mariners improved to 26-19 with their second consecutive win and with the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels both losing on Saturday, the M’s moved within two games of Houston for the top spot in the American League west and are now 1.5 games ahead of the Angels.
Paxton had passed 100 pitches after eight innings, but he had retired 11 consecutive batters and seemed to still be going strong.
So with an off day coming on Monday, Servais decided to let their horse keep running.
“He’s sniffing the finish line and you want to give him every opportunity to get there and I decided to do that tonight,” Servais said. “I think when I shook his hand after the game he said, ‘You let me go?’ I said, ‘You earned it.’ He really did.”
And Paxton had plenty of run support.
Start with Jean Jean the “hit collector” as general manager Jerry Dipoto prefers to call him.
Jean Segura rocked his third home run of the season in the first inning and then hit an RBI triple the next inning for a 3-0 Mariners lead. He later added a sacrifice fly.
Since his good friend, Robinson Cano, broke his finger on a hit-by-pitch on Sunday and later his 80-game drug suspension from MLB, Segura has shouldered a load, batting .414 (12-for-29) since Cano’s been out.
“He’s on everything,” Servais said. “Using the whole field to hit. He didn’t even feel good coming into today. He didn’t take batting practice, just kind of low-keyed it.
“He’s been playing really, really hard. Hopefully finish this series off tomorrow to a welcome off day.”
This felt like a matter of time. The Mariners’ lineup seemed like a ticking time of offense with how hard they had hit Tigers starter Mike Fiers.
Combined with Segura’s hits, Ben Gamel had solo home run (his first of the season) to stake the Mariners to a 3-1 lead after two innings.
But they had yet to take off until the sixth.
It began much like the Mariners’ five-run seventh to erase the Tigers’ 4-0 lead on Friday. Kyle Seager drew a walk and Ryon Healy followed with a base hit.
As they’ve been saying lately – keep the lineup moving.
Mike Zunino followed with one of his better at-bats in a while. It wasn’t a crushing home run like he did a couple times last week in Toronto, but he stuck with an outside fastball off the plate for a line drive the other way to score a run.
After Guillermo Heredia, who tripled his previous at-bat, drew a walk to load the bases, Dee Gordon showed why they call him “The Flash.”
His chopper up the middle deflected off of reliever Artie Lewickie’s glove and the ball grounded into right field. And about the time Nicholas Castellanos got to it, Gordon was sliding into second base with a double. He’s really fast.
That pushed the Mariners’ lead to 6-2.
And that was plenty for Paxton, who threw a season-high 117 pitches for the three-hitter. He allowed two runs, one walk with eight strikeouts.
The lone mistake came in the second inning when veteran Victor Martinez smoked a 1-0 fastball over the left-field wall.
“I find that as I go on I kind of find my rhythm more and more,” Paxton said. “So I kind of get better and better as the game goes on and the adrenaline keeps me from feeling that fatigue.”
In the Flash
You just have to see it.
Dee Gordon is really, really fast.
He sent a chopper up the middle just off pitcher Artie Lewickie’s glove, which forced Tigers second baseman Dixon Machado to have to switch directions.
Gordon got a double off of that – basically an infield double.
Because by the time Tigers right-fielder Nicholas Castellanos picked up the ball, Gordon was just a few feet away from sliding into second base with the two-run hit.
“Dee Gordon is really fast … that ball,” Servais said almost chuckling. “That ball barely made it to the outfield grass and he was at second base. Not many guys in this league can do that.”
That gave the Mariners a 6-2 lead in the sixth inning.
And Gordon needed that. He had been 1-for-19 entering that AB over the past five games.
Though maybe there was something to that speed. The Mariners talked about his move from center field to second base amid Robinson Cano’s suspension might help him have more stamina throughout the game, not having to chase balls all around the outfield and bang into walls anymore.
A couple of takeaways:
Mitch Haniger took a leap into the Safeco Field stands, and he didn’t even get any garlic fries or grasshoppers.
He did hang on to the baseball, though.
In something out of the incredible, Haniger jumped near the short wall in foul territory in right field. It undercut his legs in midair and sent him flipping into the stands, inadvertently kicking a fan in the head on his way down.
Yet, somehow he hung on for the catch and leaped out of the seats quickly to throw to the plate, though the umpires ruled the play dead with Niko Goodrum getting to third base.
“I’ve ran into a lot of walls but never gone over,” Haniger said. “I knew I was going to hit it. I was just hoping I would land on the wall, but then my legs came up from under me.”
That was the second out of the inning and pitcher James Paxton followed with a strikeout to end the fifth.
Somehow Haniger escaped without significant injury.
“That was quite a play,” Paxton said. “He’s one of those guys who will run through a wal for you, quite literally. He was great.”
Play of the game
Haniger’s catch was incredible, but Dee Gordon’s infield double put the Mariners in cruise control.
He entered with the bases loaded, having a base hit in one of his past 19 at-bats and he zoomed on a chopper deflected off the pitcher’s glove for the two-run play, giving the Mariners a 6-2 lead.
Jean Segura did it all for the Mariners, getting a home run and a triple in his first two at-bats in his first two innings.
He almost had a double but Tigers right fielder Nicholas Castellanos made a stretching catch near the wall in the sixth inning, but the sacrifice fly scored Guillermo Heredia from third.
Segura finished with three RBI and the two extra-base hits, including his third home run.
Though, the bottom of the Mariners’ order was also big. Ben Gamel hit his first home run and later hit a double. Mike Zunino sent a pitch for a line drive the opposite way to start the sixth-inning scoring for the RBI single and Heredia was 1-for-1 with a triple that was just a few feet away from going over the wall for a home run, and he walked twice with a sacrifice bunt to go with it.
The bottom three in the order went 5-for-9 with four runs, the double, triple, home run and two RBI.
The Big Maple showed he’s the Big Ace of this Mariners staff, pitching the three-hit complete game with eight strikeouts on 117 pitches.
James Paxton lowered his season ERA to 3.30 and only allowed the two runs (a Victor Martinez home run and sacrifice fly in the fifth.
“We had a hard time with the breaking ball,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s a tough breaking ball when you’re throwing 96 mph like he was. He was attacking. He got a good lead and a good pitcher like him knows exactly what to do with it.”
It was Paxton’s first start at Safeco Field since he threw the no-hitter last week.“It was really cool – it was great I could go out there and get the nine innings with everyone here supporting me,” Paxton said. “That was really fun.”
James Paxton had the Maple Grove in the third deck above left field rocking their “Eh” cards all night.
“I heard them a number of times,” Paxton said. “Those guys are great. It’s growing out there. They are getting louder.”
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